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Arun Pradeep
Tuesday , December 11, 2012 at 15 : 51

EPL: United silence 'noisy neighbours', but City still in this fight


Carlos Tevez stationed himself between a bleeding Rio Ferdinand and a pitch invader, driving his palms with all his force into his former team-mate's massive frame in a bid to restrain Ferdinand. Tevez is five-feet-eight-inches, and Ferdinand six-feet-two. The Argentine almost lost his footing before stewards escorted away a pitch invader - flagged down by Hart - who had made his way on to the pitch with an intention to confront Ferdinand. "Enough blood for one day," you could almost hear Tevez muttering.

But for Tevez, Ferdinand, who had been hurt after being struck in the face by a coin from a hostile crowd when he was celebrating Manchester United's winner on Sunday, would certainly be facing a case of assault against a fan by now. It was perhaps fitting that it was Tevez who stood between Ferdinand and a possible Football Association sanction against him.

For it was Tevez who had roused the English champions from their slumber in the second half against their derby rivals. And it was Tevez again who had broken away - fatally - from his team's four-man wall during the free-kick that led to United's winning goal in injury time. Dutchman Robin Van Persie's shot had bounced into the City net after being deflected off Samir Nasri, the last man in City's three-man wall.

After Tevez had come on in the second half, they had scored two goals to United's one in the final 45 minutes. But they could have finished the game 2-2 and continued their two-year unbeaten record at home in the league if he had shown more discipline and stuck with the wall in the final minutes. All said, however, Tevez was City's best player yesterday and the reason they ran United so close at the end. His interminable standoff with City last season over his unsanctioned vacation in Argentina already looks distant.

Worryingly however, City manager Roberto Mancini looked equally distant in his post-match interview. "We showed fantastic spirit. We are still strong and I am sure we can win the double this year," he said. The words were all there but not the vigour. Maybe Mancini was gutted at losing a proud record, but his confidence sounded more like bluster than battle cry. Mancini - of the easy laugh and eyes that pop out with enthusiasm - was speaking in platitudes and looked as if he was going through the motions.

A sense of gathering doom has enveloped the City and Real Madrid benches this season. Both teams have managers who have already failed in their primary ambitions for the campaign - European glory for City and domestic dominance for Madrid - and reports are already swirling about that Jose Mourinho will return to English football next season. Only two or three clubs in England can afford him, and City is one of them.

With the champions six points off United, will this derby loss prove crucial? With the season only 16 games old, its effect could be more psychological.

Mancini has time and again hammered away that it would be "crazy" to expect City to win the Champions League only four years after the takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group. To be fair to him, City still have the best defense in the English top flight and look likely to dust themselves off and robustly continue the defense of their title, but it is also true that the Italian has never taken a team past the quarterfinal stage of the Champions League.

City also don't have European football to worry about any more this season, thanks to their wretched Champions League campaign, in which they finished bottom of Group D. Which means they can afford to trot out their Rolls Royces once a week for the league campaign and a couple more nights here and there for the odd FA Cup tie, and spend the rest of the time in training or studying tactics.

City don't meet United for almost another four months - their next league meeting at Old Trafford is on April 6 - by which time United will conceivably have to juggle matches in the latter stages of the Champions League and the FA Cup along with those in the league. Sir Alex Ferguson is aware of that. "City are fresh and out of Euorpean football", he said yesterday. "We have to contend with Europe, the FA Cup and the league. There's still a long way to go."

Mancini would agree.


More about Arun Pradeep

Arun Pradeep is a sports journalist who has covered international cricket and tennis events. A keen follower of European football and enthusiastic blogger, he has written extensively on the sport for the New Indian Express. His biggest dream is to see AC Milan play Newcastle United in the Champions League final with both teams sharing the trophy. Against better judgement and despite nebulous prospects, Arun firmly believes a writer's life is the best there is, even if his mom ends up footing the bills, as she often does.